New Salem On My Mind

New Salem Lincoln statue

New Salem Lincoln statue

Lincoln’s New Salem on a bright sunny day in April, 2007. As I walked down its street visiting the various buildings along the way, I can’t help but think of young Lincoln who there so long ago. He first arrived in New Salem, Illinois in 1831. He was 22 years old. It was his first time not living under his father’s roof. He arrived as a tall, awkward looking, uneducated youth with nothing but an uncertain future ahead of him. He stayed there in that little pioneer village for six years. He tried his hand at many things there: storekeeper, postmaster, surveyor, and budding politician (to name a few).He, according to some, fell in love there with one Ann Rutledge. He experienced again the pain of loss when she died.  It was there that he studied a book on law. In fact, he read everything he could get his hands on. He honed his ability to debate and use the English language more skillfully. He got so good at writing and with the law that he began drawing up legal papers for neighbors. He also got into debt when after his investment (a store) “winked out.” He also participated in the Black Hawk War while a resident there. Years later he looked back with great personal satisfaction on the fact that his peers had voted him the Captain of the militia. After Lincoln left New Salem for Springfield, Illinois, the town gradually declined and died.

 

Yes, I had New Salem on my mind. The village itself is a recreation of what it was. The original structures are long gone. I was surprised to hear from one of the costumed park docents that the cooper-shop, however, is authentic. I wondered why that building survived when all the others didn’t. I went inside and took in the ambiance. I was told that young Lincoln frequently visited the cooper-shop. He would read books by its fireplace. It’s always a thrill for me to be somewhere where Mr. Lincoln was specifically.  

B. Nash walking in New Salem

B. Nash walking in New Salem

 

New Salem was sort of training and testing ground for Lincoln. He gained the confidence he would need for the rest of his life, especially as President. It was in New Salem that he felt truly esteemed by others. The townspeople had, after all, chosen him as their candidate for the State Legislature. He was reminded again of the value of work. He displayed during his time there, the honesty and integrity that he would become so known for. He survived losses there (I’m thinking here:” That which does not kill me makes me stronger” –Nietzsche).

 

Lincoln still had more than half his life to live in 1831. Springfield and Mary Todd were yet future. He would sire four sons. He would become a successful lawyer. He would experience more loss and pain. His three year old son would die. He would live to see another son die. He would lose in pursuit of his biggest dream-to become a U.S. Senator. He would become a President facing the greatest challenge ever faced by any man in that office up to that point.

 

Ah, New Salem…New Salem on my mind…  

New Salem, IL.

New Salem, IL.

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